Philadelphia Flyers

Confident Meszaros makes case to stay in lineup

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Confident Meszaros makes case to stay in lineup

Andrej Meszaros did his best to prove he deserves to stay in the Flyers’ lineup, at least through the weekend.

The Flyers’ defenseman, who’s spent about half the season watching his team from the stands, racked up three assists in the Flyers’ 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night.

It was the first time he accomplished such a feat since 2006 –- his rookie year.

“I’m just going game by game, and trying to do my best out there,” Meszaros said. “Trying to help the offense as much as I can, and be solid in the defensive zone.”

To say it’s been an “up-and-down” season for the 28-year-old would be putting it mildly. Meszaros has played just 24 games in 2013-14, the first year in a while he’s been healthy. The team’s coaches liked their other options so much more that the Flyers were paying Meszaros $67,073.17 per game not to suit up.

But he’s now played eight games in a row, his most consecutive games this season. Though he said he’s felt good in plenty of other outings, if Wednesday night is any indication, it’s paying dividends.

“It’s good for the confidence for any player, not just me,” Meszaros said. “Obviously, it’s tough when you’re in and out of the lineup. And when you get a chance to play a bunch of games in a row, it helps your confidence.”

Another thing that helped his confidence? Meszaros was recently named to Team Slovakia, and will represent his home country at next month’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“Yeah [it helps],” he said. “Obviously, it’s an honor to be selected, and I’m looking forward to that. When you’re there, and you’re representing your country, it’s always a big thing. I’m obviously happy about it.”

But even before he learned he’d be heading to Sochi, Meszaros was starting to turn a corner. Since returning to the Flyers’ lineup Dec. 23, he has five assists and a plus-5 rating. He’s averaging a solid 16:42 a night over that span.

More importantly, though, he’s feeling comfortable.

“He’s played good hockey,” coach Craig Berube said. “He’s come in and played really well since Gus [Erik Gustafsson] went down. He had a real good game [Wednesday], but overall, he’s improving all the time.

“He’s a good offensive defenseman. He’s a good all-around defenseman who can do a lot of different things. He can skate, he can shoot the puck, he can defend. So, he’s a valuable guy.”

The issue for Meszaros, however, is exactly what Berube mentioned: His return to the lineup happened only after Gustafsson sprained his knee. According to general manager Paul Holmgren, Gustafsson could return as soon as Saturday, when the Flyers host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Though Berube said he’s “not there yet” in terms of making a decision on what happens when Gustafsson returns, there’s no question Meszaros is making a case to stay.

After all, that's all he can do.

“It’s up to the coaches who’s going to be in the lineup,” Meszaros said. “The only thing I can control is play my best, and we’ll see what happens.”

NHL Notes: Oilers sign star Leon Draisaitl to mega 8-year contract

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NHL Notes: Oilers sign star Leon Draisaitl to mega 8-year contract

EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Edmonton Oilers have signed center Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year contract extension with an average annual value of $8.5 million.

The extension runs through the 2024-25 season, similar to the eight-year, $100-million extension superstar captain Connor McDavid signed with the team in July.

With the signings, the Oilers are banking on McDavid and Draisaitl providing a potent one-two punch for the team as it looks to build on last season's return to the playoffs after a decade of futility.

Draisaitl, a 21-year-old German, had 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) last season, his third in the NHL.

He finished eighth among NHL scorers, and second on the Oilers behind McDavid.

He led the Oilers in scoring during the 2017 playoffs, posting 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 13 games.

Draisaitl was selected third overall by the Oilers at the 2015 draft (see full story).

Avalanche: Hobey Baker winner Butcher now free agent
College hockey's top player is an NHL free agent after former University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher allowed a deadline to pass without signing with the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avalanche selected Butcher in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and had until Tuesday to sign the Hobey Baker Award winner who led Denver to a national championship in April.

A person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Butcher already has had discussions with the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and NHL-expansion Vegas Golden Knights. The person said Butcher has not yet narrowed his list, and is also talking with other teams.

The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

The Denver Post first reported the three specific teams expressing interest in Butcher (see full story).

Wild: Cullen comes home for 21st NHL season
The Minnesota Wild and center Matt Cullen have agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract, bringing him back to his home state for a 21st season in the NHL.

The Wild announced the deal, which includes $700,000 in potential performance bonuses, on Wednesday.

Cullen played the last two years with Pittsburgh, winning consecutive Stanley Cups with the Penguins. He played three seasons for the Wild from 2010-13, his first return to Minnesota since launching his career at Moorhead High School and St. Cloud State.

Cullen, who will turn 41 on Nov. 2, had 13 goals and 18 assists in 72 games in 2016-17 for the Penguins, plus two goals and seven assists in 25 playoff games. He has played in 1,366 career regular season games, the sixth-most among active players (see full story).

ESPN analyst ranks Flyers' farm system No. 1 in NHL

ESPN analyst ranks Flyers' farm system No. 1 in NHL

Ron Hextall never told fans to "trust the process," but apparently any faith in the Flyers' GM has been vindicated.

At least that's the case if you believe ESPN NHL writer Corey Pronman's latest farm system rankings (it's an Insider story, so apologies in advance). Pronman has the Flyers' farm ranked as No. 1 in the NHL. 

"The Flyers don't have as much game-breaking talent as our No. 2 team (Coyotes) does at the top of their system," Pronman writes, "but 2017 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick is right up there; after Patrick, the Flyers have the cupboards lined with talent at every position."

Pronman credits the Flyers with nailing his first-round picks (Patrick, Ivan Provorov), grabbing middle-round prospects that have blossomed (Shayne Gostisbehere, Oskar Lindblom) and specifically mentions Phil Myers, an undrafted defenseman that has become "one of the very best defense prospects in hockey."

For so long, the Flyers' organization was perpetually in "win-now mode," but the late Ed Snider hired Hextall away from the Kings and eventually made him GM, knowing that Hexy was taking a broader view of the organization. Instead of trading away young talent and draft picks for aging veterans, Hextall restocked a dreadful farm system to get the team where it is today.

"Not too long ago, the Flyers' farm system was a laughingstock, with C-grade college free agents making it into their top five," Pronman said. "Today, they are in the best position of any NHL team in terms of adding young premium players to their roster."